War­craft’s best ex­pan­sion in YEARS



When Ro­drigo, the Free­hold flight mas­ter, of­fers me a sum of gold to get re­venge on the pi­rates that have been bul­ly­ing him, I can’t refuse. Ro­drigo asks me to fly around on one of his gi­ant par­rots and drop bombs on the brig­ands. I soon re­alise Ro­drigo wasn’t be­ing lit­eral. At the push of a but­ton, a green turd erupts from the par­rot’s rear and splats on a pi­rate. Far be­low me, I hear a scream, “Argh, my eye!”

Wel­come to World of War­craft, a place where I’m shit­ting on peo­ple one minute and an hour later slaugh­ter­ing civil­ians who have be­come in­fected by Love­craftian brain slugs. Don’t get me wrong, though, I love that WoW flashes be­tween se­ri­ous and goofy. And Bat­tle for Azeroth em­braces that tonal du­al­ity with con­vic­tion.


Dur­ing the fi­nale of Le­gion, the pre­vi­ous ex­pan­sion, the ti­tan Sarg­eras stabbed his con­ti­nent-sized sword into the planet, wound­ing it so deeply that its crys­tallised blood be­gan bleed­ing to the sur­face. With­out a com­mon en­emy to unite them, the Horde and Al­liance are at each other’s throats and Azeroth’s blood, called Azerite, turns out to be the per­fect weapon. Af­ter an ex­plo­sive pre-ex­pan­sion event that spanned two cat­a­clysmic bat­tles, the war­ring fac­tions set sail to find al­lies in their war.

For the Al­liance, that means try­ing to re­pair its re­la­tion­ship with the hu­man mar­itime su­per­power of Kul Ti­ras. The Horde, mean­while, ven­tures to the lost con­ti­nent of Zan­dalar to treat with the an­cient but pow­er­ful Zan­dalari troll empire. Giv­ing each fac­tion a sep­a­rate con­ti­nent to level on mas­sively in­creases the scope of this ex­pan­sion. Now that I’ve taken the time to level both a Horde and Al­liance char­ac­ter to the new cap of 120, Bat­tle for Azeroth al­most feels like two ex­pan­sions.

Kul Ti­ras and Zanadalar are some of the most exquisitely de­signed lo­cales in War­craft’s his­tory and the high point of Bat­tle for Azeroth so far. Af­ter Le­gion’s Bro­ken Isles, which felt like a dis­jointed great­est hits of War­craft lore, I adore how con­sis­tent yet di­verse each of the new is­lands is.

Take Kul Ti­ras, for ex­am­ple. This mar­itime is­land is cut up into three zones that feel like or­ganic ex­ten­sions of one an­other, while still be­ing in­di­vid­u­ally iden­ti­fi­able and mem­o­rable. The bleak tun­dras of Ti­ra­garde Sound house the cap­i­tal city of Bo­ralus, torn by po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing. Drust­var, to the west, is a moun­tain range sur­rounded by spooky forests where vil­lages are slowly suc­cumb­ing to the ne­far­i­ous mag­ics of a witch coven. To the north, though, is Storm­song Val­ley, the ver­dant bread­bas­ket of Kul Ti­ras where Cthul­huesque sea priests prac­tice their rites in the shadow of a kraken carved out of a moun­tain face.

By con­trast, the Horde lev­el­ling con­ti­nent of Zanadalar couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent in its aes­thetic. It’s a lush jun­gle full of tow­er­ing spirit di­nosaurs, golden Aztec cities and swamp-dwelling blood trolls try­ing to free their blood god from an an­cient un­der­ground prison. Though the zones are so dif­fer­ent, each is won­der­ful in its own way. In par­tic­u­lar, I love the swamps of Nazmir in Zan­dalar, where there’s no short­age of haunt­ing vis­tas like the corpse of a mas­sive tor­toise be­ing grue­somely hol­lowed out by blood trolls, or a ter­ri­fy­ing blood red moon that hangs just above a creepy tem­ple for the dead. Nazmir is dark and sin­is­ter and I can’t get enough of it.

World of War­craft’s strength has al­ways been in build­ing fan­tas­ti­cal land­scapes like Kul Ti­ras and Zan­dalar, but the char­ac­ters that pop­u­late these worlds are just as well re­alised. In the ab­sence of an im­me­di­ate world-end­ing threat, Bat­tle for Azeroth com­pen­sates by putting the in­ter­nal strug­gles of its non­player he­roes in the spot­light. It’s a gam­ble that works. Both sides have great char­ac­ters, but I love the story of Jaina Proud­moore, who re­turns to cen­tre stage as a strong but emo­tion­ally wounded per­son haunted by her past de­ci­sions. Al­liance play­ers will em­bark on a long quest to re­unite Jaina with her es­tranged mother and the con­clu­sion is

sur­pris­ingly poignant.


Though the zones are new, how I ex­plore them hasn’t changed. Lev­el­ling a char­ac­ter is a fa­mil­iar rou­tine of head­ing to a new area and pick­ing up quests that lead to even more quests. But by fur­ther build­ing upon Le­gion and War­lords of Draenor’s ex­cel­lent quest de­sign, Bat­tle for Azeroth is far from a grind.

While the ac­tual ob­jec­tive of quests might be mun­dane in the grand scheme of things (like drop­ping bird turds on un­sus­pect­ing heads), there’s a great deal of va­ri­ety in each quest, and bet­ter voice acted di­a­logue and cutscenes keep the whole ex­pe­ri­ence truck­ing along at a pleas­ant rhythm. It’s mind­less fun, sure, but it’s hard to care be­cause few quests are ever the same. One minute I’ll be in­fil­trat­ing blood troll camps to poi­son their do­mes­ti­cated bats and the next I’m con­trol­ling a wick­er­man colos­sus to sin­gle­hand­edly dev­as­tate an en­tire army of stone sol­diers. There’s not a real chal­lenge to any of these ac­tiv­i­ties but the va­ri­ety keeps things in­ter­est­ing. Each zone’s quests slowly weave to­gether into an over­ar­ch­ing story that can be sur­pris­ingly dra­matic – es­pe­cially when tak­ing the time to read ev­ery bit of di­a­logue of­fered by quest givers.

It’s good Bat­tle for Azeroth’s quests are fun to com­plete on their own be­cause, so far, the re­wards for lev­el­ling up new char­ac­ters have been one of Bat­tle for Azeroth’s big­gest weak­nesses. While the de­sign of the new ar­mour and weapons looks great, the way they af­fect abil­i­ties is un­der­whelm­ing. Un­like pre­vi­ous ex­pan­sions, Bat­tle for Azeroth doesn’t add any new abil­i­ties or tal­ents to classes as they level up to 120. It makes earn­ing that cov­eted next level feel point­less.

Char­ac­ter pro­gres­sion is in­stead tied to the Heart of Azeroth, a fa­bled neck­lace that play­ers are given early on in the ex­pan­sion. This neck­lace ab­sorbs Azerite, heal­ing the planet’s wounds while also lev­el­ling up and be­com­ing more pow­er­ful in the process. Reach­ing cer­tain lev­els in the neck­lace un­locks the la­tent pow­ers of new Azerite Ar­mor, spe­cial pieces of gear that can be earned through a va­ri­ety of tasks – the most pow­er­ful of which is saved for dun­geons and raids. Each piece of Azerite Ar­mor has three con­cen­tric rings that con­tain a choice of var­i­ous abil­ity-en­hanc­ing traits. To un­lock each ring, my Heart of Azeroth has to first reach a cer­tain level and then I can choose which trait I want to per­ma­nently un­lock.

It’s a cool idea that is clearly in­spired by Le­gion’s Ar­ti­fact Weapons, which also re­quired farm­ing a re­source to un­lock traits that changed how cer­tain abil­i­ties worked. The dif­fer­ence here is that, com­pa­ra­bly, Azerite Ar­mor is bor­ing. Dur­ing my race to level 120, ev­ery piece I en­coun­tered would typ­i­cally of­fer one of two choices and nei­ther was ex­cit­ing.

Higher-end Azerite Ar­mor from dun­geons and raids of­fer more traits with more pow­er­ful ef­fects, but while lev­el­ling my tank I was usu­ally choos­ing be­tween a tem­po­rary shield or a bit of ex­tra dam­age – nei­ther of which re­ally im­proves how well I fight. The good news is that un­like Le­gion’s abysmal Leg­endary items, a painful sys­tem driven by RNG that Bliz­zard spent years try­ing to fix, Azerite Ar­mor is struc­turally sound. It’s not as need­lessly com­plex and makes switch­ing class spe­cial­i­sa­tions less of a chore be­cause I’m not hav­ing to grind for mul­ti­ple weapons. If Azerite Ar­mor just had more ex­cit­ing traits it’d be a lot more re­ward­ing.

Be­cause Ar­ti­fact Weapons and all their pow­er­ful abil­i­ties were re­tired at the end of Le­gion, my De­mon Hunter ac­tu­ally feels weaker in Bat­tle for Azeroth and Azerite Ar­mor does a piss poor job of fill­ing that weapon-shaped hole. And gods help you if you’re play­ing an en­hance­ment shaman or one of the class spe­cial­i­sa­tions that didn’t re­ceive a much-needed re­design be­fore Bat­tle for Azeroth launched. So many of Le­gion’s pow­er­ful sys­tems are now stripped away, leav­ing cer­tain class

Bat­tle for Azeroth doesn’t add any new abil­i­ties or tal­ents to classes as they level up to 120.

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